AFP, PNP continue clearing operations

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — FRESH troops from other Mindanao regions were rushed to North Cotabato as police and military troops continue clearing operations in some barangays in the province to restore normalcy in areas that have been occupied by Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels.

This was announced yesterday by PNP spokesman, Chief Supt. Nicanor Bartolome during a joint press briefing in Camp Aguinaldo with Brig. Gen. Jorge V. Segovia, acting chief of the AFP Command Center.

He said the AFP and the PNP is also strengthening the defense of neighboring municipalities to prevent the spillover of the MILF occupation.

“There are municipalities that consider that they may be collateral damage in the ongoing MILF operations so they put up their defense with the help of the AFP and the PNP,” he said.

Bartolome said the fresh troops sent to North Cotabato came from the PNP Regional Mobile Group in Regions 6, 7 and 8 or the Visayas region. He said the three battalions with Special Action Force operatives are now engaging the MILF in a firefight.

“This is our way of assuring the communities that the government is doing its best to address the situation,” Bartolome said.

More than 72 hours since the August 8 deadline for the pull-out of MILF forces from at least nine barangays in Pigcawayan, Aleosan, Libungan and Midasayap, Bartolome noted that the number of evacuees have more than doubled.

“Since Friday, we have yet to see the pull-out that was agreed upon by the MILF,” Bartolome said.

“What is highly irregular is the fact that these barangays, whose residents were driven from their homes and farmlands, are not even part of the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) that is the subject of ongoing negotiations,” he said.

Bartolome pointed out that instead of a pull-out of forces, what has been accomplished so far by the 105th Base Command of the MILF is literally a “maneuvering” of its units in other barangays, thus, widening the scope of the conflict and causing more civilians to evacuate.

He said security forces and local government units are assisting civilians displaced by the unexpected takeover of new areas by “maneuvering” MILF forces.

The MILF high command has admitted having some difficulty in implementing its instructions to lower units to withdraw from North Cotabato.

Bartolome said the Joint Task Force PALMA has been working closely with the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) to ensure the immediate withdrawal of MILF forces. The present situation has been brought to the attention of the International Monitoring Committee, he said.